Are Tech Companies Doing Enough to Protect Customer Rights and Privacy?

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Media Outlet: Ford Foundation

Rebecca MacKinnon was profiled by the Ford Foundation for her work on privacy and consumer rights:

Last year, MacKinnon launched the Ranking Digital Rights Corporate Accountability Index, which details how some of the world’s most powerful Internet and telecommunications companies fare when it comes to protecting their customers’ freedom of expression and privacy. The first of its kind, the Index helps us see how corporate practices shape the lives of billions of people around the world, and understand the kinds of questions we need to be asking about the digital products and services we rely on.
To MacKinnon, the fate of the Internet is a shared responsibility. She urges us to stop thinking of ourselves as passive “users” of technology who “consume content” and are “served ads,” and instead assert our rights—to information, access, and privacy—in the same way that people throughout history have fought for civil and human rights. We now live in a world when a person’s ability to access to a loan can be determined by an algorithm that scrutinizes their social network, and the difference between Apple and Google’s approach to encryption on mobile devices is the difference between being surveilled and not—with people living in the Global South or in low-income U.S. communities typically on the losing side. With our political lives so dependent on privately owned digital services and platforms, MacKinnon’s work reveals how the dynamics of global power are changing.
Though we spoke before the news broke about Apple’s dispute with the FBI, that news makes MacKinnon’s case for transparency and accountability even more timely. As she told me, “When you see Tim Cook from Apple standing up to the NSA, he’s doing the right thing. But it also happens to be really good for his business.”

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Rebecca MacKinnon is director of the Ranking Digital Rights project at New America.